IRA distribution rules for married couples

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Dear Tax Talk,
I read that married taxpayers must take required minimum distributions from their own IRA accounts. Is there a section of the tax code that supports this? I am curious if married taxpayers could calculate their RMD for the year and then take the distribution from only one of their accounts? What are the IRA distribution rules for married couples? Thank you.
— Jeffrey

Dear Jeffrey,
Internal Revenue Code Section 401 is where you will find out that an IRA owner must distribute the entire amount of his or her account over the life of the owner, or over the life of the owner and a designated beneficiary. There is no provision for a married couple to take a distribution from only one of their accounts.

The general rule is that an IRA owner is required to take required minimum distributions, or RMDs, no later than April 1 of the year following the year in which the owner reaches age 70 1/2. In fact, the IRS will impose a penalty if the minimum distributions are not taken as required. The penalty is equal to 50 percent of the amount by which the RMD amount exceeds the actual amount distributed. Additionally, if not making the RMD becomes a regular occurrence, the IRA may lose its tax-exempt status. So be very mindful of what is going on in your various IRA accounts.

3 RMD rules

  • If an account owner fails to withdraw an RMD or a portion of it, the amount not withdrawn is taxed at 50 percent.
  • The penalty may be waived if the account owner can prove the shortfall was due to reasonable error, and steps are taken to remedy the shortfall.
  • If an account owner takes a distribution in excess of the RMD in one year, the excess cannot be applied to the RMD of a future year.


You may want to consider sitting down with a financial adviser to review your particular situation, especially if each of you happens to have several IRA accounts. It would be time well spent in keeping you out of trouble with the penalties that could occur if everything is not done correctly.

Thanks for the great question and all the best to you in your retirement.

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